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THE TOUCH – Basil Poledouris

thetouchOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s been a long time to wait for Basil Poledouris to get back into the scoring saddle. A couple of TV movies, a couple of flops, and the lamentable Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles not withstanding, it’s been almost four years since his last major score, Les Misérables. His sabbatical has largely been self-imposed, choosing instead to concentrate on building up his Blowtorch Flats media organization, and supporting his daughter Zoë on her quest to enter the film music fray. With The Touch, however, it seems like the man behind epics as great as Conan the Barbarian and Starship Troopers is back with a vengeance – and, if I may say so, not before time.

The Touch (or, to give it its correct Mandarin Chinese title, “Tian Mai Chuan Qi”) is a martial arts fantasy adventure riding, quite obviously, on the coat tails of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The director of the movie – Peter Pau -served as editor on Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning epic, and one of its stars Michelle Yeoh, also appears here alongside Ben Chaplin and Richard Roxburgh. The plot of the movie concerns an ancient relic which was hidden high in the mountains in a remote province of China by monks. Legend has it that the relic can only be retrieved at a specific time, and only by a highly skilled acrobat trained by the monks themselves. Yeoh plays Yin Fei, the last descendent of the original acrobats, now employed by a travelling circus, who teams up with her English friend Eric (Chaplin) to retrieve the relic after the monks tell her “now is the time”. However, as Yeoh and Chaplin venture into the Chinese wilderness to fulfill their destiny, they are followed by an unscrupulous millionaire (Roxburgh), who is eager to claim the relic for himself. The film is yet to open in western cinemas, instead only having been released in South-East Asian markets – but the score is another matter, having been made available as an import from Hong Kong on the obscure Go East label. As you will see, I heartily recommend you check it out.

It’s pretty common knowledge that I absolutely adore scores in which western composers incorporate the delicious sounds of the Orient into a standard orchestra. The Touch is one of those scores. As far as I am aware, this is the first time Basil Poledouris has attempted this blend, and has succeeded admirably, merging his familiar epic orchestral style with gorgeous eastern flavorings, and some majestic action which is, quite obviously, inspired by the work of Tan Dun.

The score opens with the quite beautiful and haunting Chinese-language title song performed by Hong Kong starlet Kelly Chen, before segueing into ‘Legend of the Touch’, the first performance of the main theme, a soaring, heroic refrain replete with surging strings, impressive percussion accompaniments, intelligent synthesizer programming, and several crescendos large enough to stir the soul. It receives several stirring performances thereafter: in the dramatic ‘Memories of Days Gone’ with its emotional erhu solo; the understated ‘Thru The Forest’, which features a sublime woodwind variation before exploding into some specialty Poledouris brass; the truly enormous ‘I’ll Never Leave You’, and the sentimental ‘I Believe’.

Action, as one would expect, plays a major role in The Touch, and this is where the Crouching Tiger influence becomes most apparent. Rather rely on brass interplay, as Poledouris has done in many of his past scores, the sound of choice is percussion: massive timpanis, war drums, tick-tock woodblocks, anvils and the like, many of which crash and bang with great volume and at a hectic pace. ‘The Monkey King Enthralls’ is the first of these cues, but subsequently tracks such as ‘In the Heart of the Night’, ‘Trouble Under Blue Skies’, ‘Secret Revealed’, and the gargantuan 13-minute ‘Destiny Awaits’ continue the trend. This last track is arguably the best on the album, combining the percussion elements with majestic, Starship Troopers-style string crescendos and a large, full-voiced choir. It’s Poledouris at his best.

Other elements of note include the clever pizzicato string work in ‘Glimpses Down the Path’, the moody yet heartfelt ‘A Light Dimmed’, the funereal, pseudo-religious lament in ‘Farewell Kind Soul’, and the truly lovely ‘Healing of Hearts’, which features a hesitantly romantic flute, harp and string sequence that segues into a beautiful piano theme, redolent of Poledouris’s work on the criminally underrated It’s My Party.

I’m absolutely delighted that Basil Poledouris has finally returned to top form with The Touch. As I said in my opening paragraph, it’s been a long four years since Les Mis and Starship Troopers, and I just hope the quality and excellent reception afforded to this work inspires him to write more scores. As I type this, I see he is signed to score the movies ‘Paul Bunyan’ and ‘Under Siege 3’. Bated breath doesn’t even come close.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • The Touch (written by Yan Ke, Lin Xe and Basil Poledouris, performed by Kelly Chen) (3:58)
  • Legend of the Touch (2:15)
  • The Monkey King Enthralls (1:47)
  • In the Heart of Dun Huang (1:38)
  • In the Heart of the Night (2:45)
  • Memories of Days Gone (3:42)
  • Trouble Under Blue Skies (5:31)
  • Glimpses Down the Path (2:13)
  • A Light Dimmed (2:29)
  • Farewell Kind Soul (1:48)
  • Healing of Hearts (3:19)
  • Thru’ the Forest (3:19)
  • Secret Revealed (4:23)
  • I’ll Never Leave You (4:39)
  • Destiny Awaits (12:52)
  • I Believe (4:31)
  • Time to Choose (3:30)

Running Time: 64 minutes 39 seconds

Go East 064778-2 (2002)

Music composed by Basil Poledouris. Conducted by Yang Yang. Performed by The Chinese Philharmonic Orchestra. Recorded and mixed by Tim Boyle. Album produced by Basil Poledouris.

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